Following scholarly research in the 1970s and 1980s, Mary Shelley has come to be regarded as a major literary figure of the Romantic period and an early feminist author.
In 1816, Mary Godwin, Shelley, their illegitimate son, and her half-sister, left England to spend the summer with poet George Lord Byron and his physician at a manor near Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It rained incessantly and the group was confined to the house for days.
They discussed literature, kept diaries, wrote poems and stories. Soon they were engaged in a contest to see who could come up with the scariest story. Mary Godwin wrote a tale about a scientist obsessed with bringing inanimate bodies to life, and an experiment gone horribly wrong. She intended it only as a short story but Shelley and the others were so intrigued they encouraged her to expand it as a novel. it became her first (and most successful) and it was published two years later.
Mary Godwin and Shelley were married after the suicide of his first wife. Mary devoted many years to developing Shelley's reputation as a poet and promoting his work. Though he was known throughout England during his lifetime, most recognition did not come until after his death.
Mary Shelley continued to write and publish throughout her life, and published several books after her husband's untimely death in a storm at sea in 1822. She edited collections Shelley's poetry, including Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1824). Among her novels are Mathilda (1819), in which a woman on her deathbed tells of her father's incest and suicide; and The Last Man (1826), a science fiction tale of the survivors of a plague-ridden world.